A corruption scandal has engulfed a high-profile international exhibition that Astana is organizing, just as Kazakhstan enters the final stages of its bid to stage another prominent global event – the Winter Olympics.
Talgat Yermegiyayev, the chief organizer of Kazakhstan’s EXPO-2017 exhibition (which is due to be held in Astana in two years) has been placed under house arrest on suspicion of embezzlement, reports the Today.kz website.
The court ruling was issued on June 12, the day after President Nursultan Nazarbayev had fired Yermegiyayev from his position as chief executive of the Astana EXPO-2017 company, which is organizing the international exhibition. Nazarbayev’s administration has billed the event a major PR coup for Kazakhstan.
Another top EXPO official, Kazhymurat Usenov, who was in charge of the department overseeing construction of facilities for the exhibition, has also been placed under house arrest. He is suspected of embezzling 214 million tenge ($1.2 million) from the $385 million the state has allocated for the $3 billion event.
The corruption scandal has erupted as Kazakhstan enters the final stages in the race to stage the 2022 Winter Olympics, in which commercial capital Almaty is competing with Beijing to host the prestigious sporting event. A vote is due at the end of July.
Kazakhstan’s organizing committee has pledged that if Almaty wins the bid the games will be squeaky clean, with solid external scrutiny in place to rule out corruption.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is keen to ensure the games are not tarnished by allegations of the type that marred the Winter Olympics in Russia’s Sochi in 2014. In that event, corruption helped inflate the costs from $12 billion to $51 billion, according to anti-graft watchdog Transparency International.
The last international sporting event Kazakhstan hosted, the 2011 Asian Winter Games in Almaty, was also tainted by corruption after a top organizer was found guilty of embezzling $3 million in state funds earmarked for the event to buy himself luxury cars and prime real estate.